The latest entry set in Square-Enix’s long-running Front Mission franchise is hot off the presses: Left Alive is a third-person stealth/shooter hybrid with a strong emphasis on survival. It's a new direction once again for the mech combat series, but unfortunately, this experimental model stumbles at every turn it takes.
An interrupted narrative flow
You play as three protagonists caught up in a foreign country’s sudden declaration of war. Mikhail, Olga, and Leonid - these playable characters provide the three perspectives you'll experience in this fourteen chapter-long campaign. They’re also given dialogue choices that sadly don't add much weight or substance to the narrative.
The real issue holding back this story-driven action game is the presentation. Each chapter focuses on one character’s perspective, and with each chapter lasting about 30 minutes to an hour, you are tossed around between the three storylines, so any kind of momentum or focus built up by the game is lost.
The story’s unorthodox structure left me struggling to stay invested, dissipating my anticipation. What could have been a focused narrative felt side-tracked every time I hit a new chapter. There was a point where I was interested in the developments in Olga's story, but had to play as the others first. A few chapters later, as Olga, I had to take a minute or two to recall what had happened several hours ago.
At the story’s wrap, I found that the impact of each plot twist did not warrant the effort put into the 8-9 hour campaign. The motives for each character weren’t fleshed out enough to make the twists impactful, especially with regards to the antagonists. Left Alive’s campaign is an uninspiring tale, lacking any lingering effect to warrant a second go, let alone sparking any desire to learn more about this world and its characters - it’s a shame, since I’ve enjoyed previous conflicts between different factions in the Front Mission universe.
“Left Alive insists you play it smart and conservative, but the combat has the potential to get stale early on. Having to revisit past locations with different characters magnifies the lack of variety, both in combat and level design.”
You’ve got to be stealthy… like it or not!
In between all the drama in Left Alive, this is a game mostly designed to be played as a stealth experience - you’ll want to avoid heavily guarded areas, picking fights only when necessary. The reason for this is that being spotted usually results in a 30 versus 1 situation, which isn’t ideal, especially considering the scarcity of necessary items. Exploration rewards players with more items, and more items simply results in more opportunities, thanks to the on-the-spot crafting system, which gives players access to makeshift explosives and traps to plan ambushes or establish a strong resistance to incoming enemies.
I get what the developers were going for - a guerrilla warfare experience where you’re operating in a space occupied by the enemy, planning ambushes or placing traps to edge out the advantage. It’s a great idea in theory, but Left Alive’s controls and basic functions tend to get in the way, as I found myself struggling almost every time. Movement is clunky all throughout, and the enemy variety doesn’t challenge the player enough to fully utilize the provided toolsets.
Gunfights can get repetitive, and since enemy AI are mindless fodder that don't adapt enough to force players to mix up their approaches, they prove easy to manipulate to your advantage. Some foes stay out of cover and shoot at you with pinpoint accuracy; others will just run past you for no reason at all, placing them at an unusual disadvantage. It can be either comedic or frustrating, and challenge can only be found because of the game’s unorthodox control scheme and how enemies hit like trucks on any difficulty.
Left Alive insists you play it smart and conservative, but the combat has the potential to get stale early on. Having to revisit past locations with different characters magnifies the lack of variety, both in combat and level design.
As for sidequests, there’s Survivors - a mode where players are given the option of leading civilians to safety by escorting them to the entrance of a nearby underground bunker. There isn’t much of an incentive to complete this content, since your chances of being discovered by the enemy greatly increase. Considering how rare items are in this game, simply knowing the survivors’ stories and having the satisfaction of saving them is just not worth the added effort 90% of the time.
“Picture a mech arcade game similar to Virtual-On, only slower and clunkier. “
Left Alive’s fantastic, but fleeting Wanzer gameplay
Graphics during gameplay feel dated, but they’re decent in cutscenes. The campaign takes place mostly at night, and while Left Alive can be a treat for the eyes at times, these instances aren’t fully utilized, as there’s a lack of good lighting to fully flesh out the environments. An unfortunate stiffness pervades animations for actions like sliding, character reactions, and gestures during cutscenes.
The music does a good job at supporting cutscenes to really hammer home the tone or emotions of the moment, but where the audio fails is, again… during gameplay. Gunfire doesn’t sound crisp or impactful, especially when piloting a Wanzer, the mechanized units in the Front Mission universe.
Yes, Left Alive features short Wanzer segments; these serve as ice-breakers for the repetitive gameplay and are probably the best parts of the experience. Picture a mech arcade game similar to Virtual-On, only slower and clunkier. These all-too-brief moments made me realize the most important factor lacking in the overall gameplay - fun. I wished I could play the whole game in a Wanzer, but these joyous interludes are short-lived, as you’re forced to get off your killing machine in order to progress the story.
Before Left Alive, we were given Front Mission Evolved back in 2010. It was a third person, Wanzer-focused game that also steered away from the turn-based strategy gameplay that was the defining core of the Front Mission franchise and brought it fame and success in its early years. Left Alive continues to dip the series’ toes into new territory, but fails - not just at that task, but at being a proper introduction to those unfamiliar with the once-great, long-running mecha franchise.
Once my playthrough of the campaign ended, New Game+ was unlocked, featuring perks that slightly alter one’s second go at the campaign. These alterations provided perks, from more damage attributed to a certain weapon type to the ability to sprint longer before your character gets winded. Why weren’t these a part of the game from the get-go?
It’s a mystery I didn’t bother to find out and experience for myself, as I had no interest to go through the whole rigmarole again. I appreciate developers taking a risk, but in this case, it’s hard to support such risks when it feels like the game is tripping on itself at every corner.
What I’ve Played
Took 8+ hours to finish the game’s campaign on normal difficulty.
Played on the easiest difficulty for two hours to see changes (enemy damage, as far as I can tell)
Escorted approximately six Survivors (sidequests) to safety during my time with the campaign. Only two survived.
Turned on certain perks in New Game+ and played around with it for like 30 minutes.
(+) Wanzer combat is a blast to play while it lasts
(-) Weak story structure ruins the narrative flow
(-) Unorthodox control scheme makes the gameplay feel unnatural
(-) Recycled level designs that are easy to spot